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Hugh Jackman
Russell Crowe
Eddie Redmayne
Anne Hathaway
Helena Bonham Carter
Sacha Baron Cohen
Samantha Barks
Amanda Seyfried.
Tom Hooper.
William Nicholson.
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158 minutes

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Les Miserables
Beyond the barricades

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Jean Valjean (Jackman), imprisoned for 19 years for a minor offence, is paroled but perpetually shadowed by Inspector Javert (Crowe). When he takes in the foundling daughter of the tragic Fantine (Hathaway), he finds a reason to keep his freedom.

Les Miserables
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Les Miserables opens big. The camera sweeps over gilded, bulbous warships, blasted by coastal waves, to the hundreds of miserable wretches inching one of these monsters into the Toulon dry dock on waterlogged ropes. This vast chain gang sings Look Down in a rumbling bass that’s close to a dirge, and the tone is set. This is not the sort of musical where people dance their cares away, but one where people’s cares seem to rip songs from their throats. Through all that follows, the moments of levity and romance as well as the suffering, Tom Hooper’s adaptation of Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer’s juggernaut of a musical never fails to take its subject matter seriously, its raw, brutal edge in tune with Victor Hugo’s melodrama of the downtrodden and destitute.

Hugh Jackman, matching Jean Valjean’s fabled strength, carries the plot on his shoulders. Only he and Russell Crowe’s Javert remain constants through the 17 years of the film’s plot, and only Valjean really grows during that time, since Javert’s inflexibility is his defining trait.

We first meet Valjean as a convict, making futile demands that his jailer respect him as a fellow human being — only to be rebuffed by the didactic Javert. On parole he meets only rejection and prejudice, descending into animal-like desperation and spitting bitterness before a miraculous second chance sees Valjean resolve to match the faith shown in him in the film’s most emotionally complex scene. Righteous fury rages with a rekindled sense of virtue; wounded pride and a thirst for justice compete with hope of redemption, and somehow from the conflagration a morally upright man emerges.

As with all the film’s high emotion, this is communicated entirely in song, sung live on set and with veins frequently popping from the effort. Hooper’s commitment to live performance no doubt added hugely to the stress of the shoot, but in return for a few wobbly high notes he gets a unique, visceral punch. The vocals aren’t as flawless as, say, Alfie Boe managed onstage — Jackman struggles with the famously difficult Bring Him Home, and at times Crowe wobbles into rock stylings — but the drama is stronger for it.

Not everything is so successful. The Paris soundstages feel small and poky, and different angles of shot might have avoided a sometimes stagey feel and the jarring contrast with the outdoor scenes, which deliver a glorious Delacroix look and scale. The sprawling structure of the show, too, means that high emotion breaks in wave after wave without reprieve, cinematic close-ups magnifying the impact. At its best, that effect sees Anne Hathaway reclaim I Dreamed A Dream from Susan Boyle and ruin the song for all who follow her. Angry, defiant and broken all at once, it is a definitive performance, and though her part amounts to barely a montage and this one sublime solo, don’t be surprised to see her on an Oscar podium come February.

But after that emotional wallop, the love story between Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and Valjean’s ward, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), can’t overcome her character’s inherent drippiness, leaving you impatient to get to the revolutionary stuff when students led by the idealistic Enjolras (Aaron Tveit) fight a hopeless uprising in the people’s name and Javert encounters Valjean once more. When these big moments arrive, the cast rise with full-throated determination and deliver a musical unlike any other.

Occasionally, like its characters, ragged around the edges, this nevertheless rings with all the emotion and power of the source and provides a new model for the movie musical.

Reviewed by Helen O'Hara

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Les Miserables
Empire Star Rating

want to watch it

want to watch it ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by alf1e at 10:22, 09 January 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Excitement!

L: BelfastBoy Seyfried was heavy on the vibrato in Mamma Mia as well so it's obviously just her approach. (Am not big on singing techniques so is this something that people do naturally or is it a style that can be adopted or removed easily?) Talking of vibrato, Jackman's overuse of it on Bring Him Home is distracting to the point of being virtually unlistenable. echnical vibrato is a style that can be adopted and removed yes - it is learnt thing. Of course some people have vibrato i... More

Posted by polkadotty5 at 22:54, 08 January 2013 | Report This Post

One of the few that has to be that good to be worth it

Meh.. If it ain't FIVE stars and has some serious issues with the singing then I think i'll stick to the stage and wait for the better version decades to come. Who wants to leave Les Mis going well.. it wasn't perfect! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by blindfold at 14:13, 07 January 2013 | Report This Post


Well, while it had a fantastic look to it, I was not blown away and kind of glad I didn't see this on stage. Hard to fault the acting of Jackman (less so Crowe) and he made a reasonable attempt at the singing (less so Crowe again) but I found t hard to really engage and care about anyone. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bretty at 11:24, 07 January 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Excitement!

L: polkadotty5 as one Youtube commenter brilliantly put it, Amanda Seyfried overdoes the vibrato so much she sounds like a 'bleating goat on helium'. I know she can sing beautifully so I'm not sure why she's decided the caprine route is a good one, but she's not the only one of the cast overdoing it in my opinion. I'll be back when I've finally seen it to answer my own questions! Still, a fine review thanks Helen :) eyfried was heavy on the vibrato in Mamma Mia as well so it's obviou... More

Posted by BelfastBoy at 19:33, 01 January 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Les Miserables

Loved this film and agree with Empires review as well. Anne Hathaway is simply stunning in this film. I don't recall a more Oscar worthy performance in recent years apart from perhaps Charlize Theron on 'Monster'. The rest of the film generally lives up to her fantastic scenes, but I did find Amanda Seyfrieds character and story line to be a bit of a drip. I think her reason to be 'miserable' just didn't live up to Anne Hathaways and the storyline felt weaker for it. Other than that, brilliant... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by england_cmr at 03:48, 01 January 2013 | Report This Post

Saw this tonight. Agree with Empire's review. Some of the sets looked a bit small-scale. But Anne Hathaway was incredible. Reminded me of Judi Dench's Oscar nod for Shakespere in Love. Ie not much screen time but she totally killed it. Amazing performance. Her 'I dreamed a dream' was haunting. Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe were very good also. Amanda Siegfried was the let down for me..... She warbled through the few songs she had. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by kirtley at 16:18, 29 December 2012 | Report This Post

RE: Les Miserables

Can't wait ... More

Posted by Hood_Man at 17:17, 16 December 2012 | Report This Post

RE: Les Miserables

I'm looking forward to this. No, not really. I'd rather cut my own fucking legs off, really. ... More

Posted by demoncleaner at 08:10, 16 December 2012 | Report This Post

RE: Excitement!

I really have no desire to see this even if the reviews are so good. ... More

Posted by Coyleone at 23:45, 10 December 2012 | Report This Post

RE: Excitement!

What was wrong with the Liam Neeson version! great and best of all , no singing! ... More

Posted by Dannybohy at 13:29, 10 December 2012 | Report This Post


This review has only heightened my anticipation. The Paris soundstages were recently revealed in a featurette that made them look pretty impressive actually, but of course I'll reserve judgement until I see them properly. I've had enough of Samantha Barks not getting the recognition she deserves in the Les Mis promo material, bit disappointed that she got no mention here either. Hmm, I'm a bit torn about whether I like Anne's take on I Dreamed A Dream. In the footage revealed so far, it seems ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by polkadotty5 at 20:24, 09 December 2012 | Report This Post

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